Eloy Jimenez, OF, Chicago Cubs (Mesa Solar Sox)
Eloy Jimenez has earned himself a reputation with a highly productive 2016 and it’s come with a tool set that is awe-inspiring and tantalizing. The key to the profile is double-plus raw power which shows up in game thanks to a hit tool that allows for enough contact for his prodigious strength to actualize. Jimenez is a massive human already and he’s not quite done growing, so the raw strength could eventually get to the top of the scale. He’s visceral, exciting, and capable of putting up big time performances.
If you think about it for a long enough time there is likely one elite-level performance by which you judge all others. It could be sports-related; maybe you’re the type of person who judges all top-level pitching performances to the Kerry Wood 20-K game. It could not; maybe there was some movie or singer whose live performance touched your soul in a life-altering way and now everything is relative to that one moment. For Mexicans Juan Gabriel was the music we played when we wanted to feel something, as his emotionally charged music and performances tapped into something deep within the consciousness of us all. And so the one performance by which I judge all others is this one by Gabriel from 12/20/1990. I love Eloy Jimenez’s tools and what he’s done production wise during his stay in the minors, so I feel it’s time to put Jimenez to the Juan Gabriel test. It’s a tough assignment for Jimenez but he’s ready for a challenge and I am beyond excited to see what he can do in the Arizona Fall League. —Mauricio Rubio
Greg Bird, 1B, New York Yankees (Scottsdale Scorpions)
Welcome back, Greg Bird! The Yankees Twitter favorite and erstwhile first baseman of the future is making his 2016 debut in the Arizona Fall League, coming off a torn labrum discovered in preseason workouts. Bird was the 2014 AFL MVP, hitting .313/.391/.556, which led into a 2015 season where he tore through Double-A and Triple-A and established himself as a viable first base option in the big leagues, hitting 11 homers in just 178 MLB PAs.
When healthy, Bird brings two strong skills to the plate with him: extremely good plate discipline and high-end power. It’ll be important to see if the power remains after the shoulder troubles, because there aren’t a lot of secondary tools to fall back on. Bird is limited to first and DH only, and he’s probably never going to hit for a particularly impressive batting average. The AFL should be a good test for whether Bird is physically back; whether he has a huge role on the 2017 Yankees will depend more on what the Yankees do in the offseason—Edwin Encarnacion sure would be a nice fit for the Bombers, for example. But if he’s healthy, he should have little trouble reclaiming the first baseman of the future mantle from Tyler Austin, and he could quickly be right there with the other Yankees “Young Guns” establishing themselves in the Bronx. —Jarrett Seidler
Cody Bellinger, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers (Glendale Desert Dogs)
After a breakout 2015 in which he hit 30 home runs in the Cal League, our own Wilson Karaman pretty much nailed Bellinger this past January: “We’re still probably another year or two away from getting a solid read on the type of body and approach he’s likely to evolve into, but another statistical triumph at Double-A next summer would easily land him in the top 50 in twelve months.”
Bellinger answered with a noteworthy decline in strikeouts and an increase in walks while maintaining his power numbers. There are still some major question marks regarding his hit tool, including his propensity to sell out, and concerns about his swing being too long. However, all the question marks seem to be mechanical; physically, he’s very loose and athletic, with a lean, flexible upper body and explosive hips, which translate to some mammoth home runs. It looks like the Dodgers are using the AFL to stretch Bellinger out for a mid-season call-up next year, so it’ll be interesting to see how much he has left in the tank this fall. I’m excited to get a better read on his ability to track pitches, use the whole field, and shorten up when the situation dictates, but I fully expect him to compete for the AFL MVP. —Matt Pullman
Franklin Barreto, MI, Oakland Athletics (Mesa Solar Sox)
Barreto is the only piece of the Donaldson trade yet to make an impact on the Athletics big-league roster, although he remains the highest-ceiling player they received in the deal. Still only 20 years old, Barreto handled Double-A pitching, showing off his offensive abilities: since July 1 he hit .355/.411/.548 and even got his first taste of Triple-A, appearing in four games. The majority of the questions about Barreto come on the defensive side of the ball. While he is making improvements and has all the tools you could want, including a strong arm, and dynamic athleticism, he still needs to sharpen up some of his fundamentals at the position. It was once a big question mark whether Barreto would be able to stick at short, and while it is still not a guarantee, the question mark is shrinking (though he did get 31 games at the keystone this year). Even if a position change does happen down the road, the bat can handle it. Barreto is an undersized guy, but he uses what he has well. He sometimes looks awkward and unbalanced but still manages to get good wood on the ball due a highly adjustable swing. He does a great job with depth and direction, working his barrel deep in the zone, allowing him to hit the ball all over the field with power, and it’s this same depth and direction that allows him to keep his barrel in the zone for long periods of time; even if his legs or timing are off, he can still adjust and make good contact. The AFL will give us a great look at Franklin against some of the game’s best, and I expect him to do more of what he has been doing for months. —Derek Florko
Brent Honeywell, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (Peoria Javelinas)
That screwball! It’s the number one reason I’m excited for his further development, and his upcoming appearance in Fall League. The righty pitched his way to Double-A in 2016, after an outstanding run in High-A Charlotte. It was a bit surprising he even started the season with Charlotte—though, perhaps his age, 21, was a factor. But he quickly showed he’d gotten just about all he could out of the level. Hitters struggled to pick up the screwball, as did his manager, Michael Johns, who’d mentioned it in May. Honeywell ended 2016 with a combined 2.39 ERA, allowing 25 walks in 20 starts split evenly between High-A and Double-A. I’d like to see what he does with his rare pitch, and the velocity he’s added, against advanced competition in Arizona. And while we can’t quantify mentality, he’s one of the most teachable players I’ve ever covered. A lot to like overall. —Jessica Quiroli
Luiz Gohara, LHP, Seattle Mariners (Peoria Javelinas)
You typically don't see many teen pitchers head to the AFL, and that's certainly part of the appeal of seeing Gohara this fall. That being said, even if he was 22 or 25 or 36, he'd be a fun get, because the big man's stuff has taken a huge uptick in 2016. He's shown two plus pitches in his mid-90s—occasionally harder—fastball, and a slider that has hard downward tilt. He'll also sprinkle in a so-so change on occasion, and he's throwing more strikes than ever before. The big concern here is his size, as he's burly—to put it nicely—and that can have short- and long-term ramifications. If he can keep in shape and stay durable, he has more upside than any pitcher in the Seattle Mariner organization. —Christopher Crawford
Christin Stewart, LF, Detroit Tigers (Salt River Rafters)
Why am I so excited to see Stewart in the Fall League? Because there aren’t many players in the game with plus-to-better power from the left side, and power is a huge commodity. After cruising through the Florida State League with 24 homers, Stewart hit his first road block in Double-A Erie. He was exposed to better sequencing, as well as better off-speed offerings and didn’t leave a great first impression. Stewart has had problems with pitches on the inner half and under his hands all year and tended to get too passive, waiting for perfect pitches rather than working with what was given. Secondly, he has always struggled against lefties as they are able to get him to expand his zone and chase pitches out on the outer half. So it will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments he can make. If he can make adjustments against southpaws, then he is an everyday player. But Stewart needs to hit: he has a 40 arm, is a 40 runner, and is relegated to left field, if not DH at times. The risk for Stewart still remains high, but the ceiling for him is an above-average regular, who brings plus power from the left side. a highly sought after attribute. —Steve Givarz
Jose Trevino, C, Texas Rangers (Surprise Saguaros)
I wrote about Trevino earlier in the year, and he has since cemented himself as my favorite position-player prospect in the California League this year. He’s a fierce field general who commands the pace and tempo of the game from behind the plate, and it is quickly apparent in watching him work that he operates with the full faith and confidence of his pitching staff. The leadership acumen extends to the dugout, where he’s a constant presence interacting with teammates and firing up the troops; the league champions fed off his intensity all year long.
Trevino’s a guy in between the lines, too. He possesses a prototypical catching frame, with a nice blend of size and agility that he’s learned to more effectively deploy in smothering balls down in the dirt as the season has progressed. He can control the running game with a catch-and-throw technique that has taken a similarly notable step forward this year, culminating in my final look last week with multiple sub-1.8 pops. The bat has come along nicely as well, and he pairs a sound pitch recognition with an aggressive in-zone approach to produce consistent line-drive contact.
Now, it’s an incredibly tall order to ask a catcher on the heels of a hundred games sweltering in the heart of the Mojave Desert to turn around and hold his own against some of the best prospects in baseball while sweltering in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. But I’m excited to see how he handles the assignment, and if he’s got anything left in the tank he’s going to open some eyes. —Wilson Karaman
Tyler Wade, CF?, New York Yankees (Scottsdale Scorpions)
Wade is a good prospect who had a good season, but that by itself wouldn't normally pique my interest enough to make a list like this. Honestly the AFL doesn't excite me as much as it does my colleagues. It does get a lot of prospects in one place, but the bulk of AFL contingents generally fit into one of three vaguely boring categories. (1) Arms prepping for a conversion to the pen. (2) Dudes that missed some time and are in need of some more reps. (3) Guys we might want to add to the 40, but aren't convinced either way. Oh, and most everyone is already gassed. Wade already played a full season (and looked a bit gassed by the end based on late-season reports), but he is a member of the more interesting category (4), which is really just the position player version of (1). Despite being exclusively an infielder as a professional, the Yankees will be using Fall ball as a way to get Wade a look in center field, and the profile may fit better there. Wade is a 65 runner, but the overall defensive tools are a bit stretched at shortstop. And with Didi Gregorius entrenched at that position, and sexier middle infield options in the system between Jorge Mateo and the recently-acquired Gleyber Torres, this might be Wade’s quickest route to major league playing time. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Bradley Zimmer, OF, Cleveland Indians (Mesa Solar Sox)
In terms of pure upside, few outfielders in the AFL—and all the minors, too—match Zimmer’s ceiling. The 6-foot-4, left-handed-hitting center fielder makes the game look easy, with fluid actions on both sides of the ball from a classic speed/power tool set. When he’s able to stay short to the ball and make consistent contact, Zimmer has easy power, as well as the ability to man a premium defensive position. On the flipside, his long levers give length to his bat’s path, and he’s shown some predisposition to be beat with velocity on his hands. This season, Zimmer’s struggles versus same-side pitching were significantly exposed. His final .250 batting average is misleading—he absolutely mashed righties, but was so poor against left-handed pitching (.179 average, .250 slugging) that it brought down his overall line. No matter, his premium power and speed still showed up in his final 2016 line: 15 home runs—with 25 doubles, to boot—along with nearly 40 steals.
Defensively, his long strides cover plenty of ground in center. Despite being taller than most speed players, there’s little question as to whether Zimmer is capable of handling the position at the big-league level, while also having the aptitude to slot in on either corner if need be. His first steps aren’t that of a burner, but underway he’s an easy plus runner—as his stolen base totals would indicate. His arm will flash above-average; I saw him finish a handful of impressive outfield assists over multiple looks this season. Zimmer should have every chance to crack Cleveland’s roster at some point early next season, and it will be exciting to see what he can do against premium competition in Arizona. —Adam McInturff
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